Chapter Four ~ A Dark Secret Revealed
Joe picked up his beer and swirled the bottle. He stared in the dark gold liquid searching for answers. After a moment, he set the bottle down, looked over to Tony and said, “I never again set foot again in the attic until the other day. That part of the house was taken away from me in an instant. For a long while, I believed I did something terribly wrong. I didn’t understand what I did, but I I knew I crossed a line I should have never crossed. Mom never mentioned it. It is as if that moment never happened.
Tony couldn’t help himself, “I think I remember your mom being angry with you. At the time, I felt bad because I told her we looked all over for you. She called for you and you didn’t answer. Then, all of a sudden, she heard a thump in the attic and got this look on her face and took off. The next thing Anna and I knew was we had to go home. Were you ever curious as to what was in the metal box?”
“I thought about it every now and then. I wasn’t sure if it was what was inside the metal box or the fact that I was in the footlocker and messed things up. I hadn’t thought about it in years. I wasn’t sure until I cut the duct tape on the metal box and opened the box. The old hook latch I had so much trouble with when we were playing hide and seek was broken. I wondered for a moment if I broke it. For an instant, I felt guilty.”
Tony looked at his friend. He wanted to prod him. He could see the struggle in Joe’s face. Tony wondered what was in the box that was eating at his best friend. Joe was always the toughest of the two. He protected Tony, stood up to bullies. He’d just as soon fight on the playground as to backdown.
Joe said, “Look at me, Tony. Who do I favor, my mom or my dad?”
Tony thought the question was coming in from an aircraft not on his radar. He said,
“Don’t take it the wrong way, you’ve got a big nose. Neither your mom or dad have a big nose.”
Joe cracked a half smile, “I know. Who do I favor? Maybe my eyes, cheeks, mouth. I know neither mom or dad have a nose this big.”
“Your nose is big but it’s in proportion to your face. You don’t favor your dad. Your mom had dark brown eyes and your eyes are dark brown. That’s a similarity. You’re taller than both. You have any tall aunts or uncles?”
“No, both sides of the family were on the shorter side. I’m six one. I don’t think there is anyone over five feet eleven inches. I’m making a point, let me go on without interrupting me.”
Tony knew enough to back off. He waited.
Joe said, “When I opened the box, I found cards, letters, documents, and some photos.”
He paused and took a sip of his beer. Then he continued, “I’m a bastard.”
Tony looked surprised, “Everyone knows that.” Tony failed in his attempt to add humor.
“Seriously, Tony. Dad is not my dad.” Joe held up his hand to stop Tony from speaking. He continued. I picked up an old photo. It was of mom. It was weird looking at photo of my mom in a bikini on the beach. In the photo she was being carried by a tall guy, about her age, with a nose like mine. Her arm was around his neck, and he was holding her off the ground. They were both smiling. You could tell they were in love.”
“This doesn’t mean anything,” said Tony instantly realizing he should be quiet.
Joe ignored Tony’s comment and said, “There were a couple of other photos. There was one with them kissing. There was another with mom and the guy, this time he was in an army uniform. My heart was racing when I saw the photos. I didn’t know or suspect anything. But, I had this feeling, you know the kind of feeling you get when you know something is not going to turn out the way you want it to turn out if you keep on going?”
Tony nodded and stayed silent.
“I set the photos on the table. I began digging through what else was in the box. Mom saved letters and things like that. All this was before the Internet and email. I don’t even know if people write letters anymore, do you?”
Tony was unsure if he should speak. He shook his head no indicating he didn’t know anyone who wrote letters. He shrugged his shoulders.
Joe continued, “I read some letters between mom and aunt Estelle. That was mom’s older sister.”
Joe looked over a Tony, “You know my birthday, right?”
Tony said, “Yah, November 29 …”
Joe cut him off, “That’s right. “I’ll be twenty-nine this year. I asked because the postage stamp date on the envelope was dated twenty-eight years ago. It actually came December 27th, nearly a month after I was born. Mom and dad married eight months later. I never thought much about me being born before mom and dad were married. Mom told me things like that happen when people are in love and not to think anything of it. When your five or six you believe everything your parents tell you. I opened the envelope and read the letter. The letter wasn’t long, maybe a couple of paragraphs.”
Joe stopped, put his right elbow on the table and cupped his chin in his right hand. He drifted away from Tony for a minute, and gathered his thoughts. Joe took a deep breath and sat back in the booth, then leaned forward as if he were telling Tony a state secret. He said, “The letter starts, ‘Dear Annette. I met someone else. Whatever we had between us is over. I hope you won’t be mad at me.'”
“Is that all he said?” asked Tony.
“No, he said he loved her for a little while, but being away in the army caused things to happen he didn’t expect to happen. Then he added the killer sentence, he said, ‘Give little Joe a hug and kiss for me each night.'” When I read that line,Tony, I wanted to punch the son of a bitch in face and break his nose. That’s how I felt.”
“But you have the same last name as your dad. How do you explain that,” asked Tony.
“That’s easy. I did some digging. In this state you can change the name on the birth certificate up to one year without going to court. All you have to do is fill out some forms. The letter was signed, yours affectionately, Joe. He didn’t even have the guts to say I love you to her. I picked up the envelope and looked at the return address. His name was Joe Wright. He was a Lieutenant at the time and stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. I’m going to find him. I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, but I’m going to find him.”
“You don’t want to do that, Joe. Let it go. For all you know, he’s dead.”
“If he’s dead, I’ll spit on his grave. I’m going to find him, Tony. I’ll find him even I have to
spend every cent I have.”
“Think about it first, Joe. Don’t let your emotions run away with you. What do you know about this guy other than a name, Joe Wright? In this city, Columbus, Ohio, there have to be hundreds of people with the last name, Wright. You thinking about hiring an investigator?” said Tony.
“I’m going to find him by myself. While I’m looking for him, maybe I’ll learn something about me. I’ve always felt there was a missing piece in my life, this could be it,” said Joe.
Tony leaned closer, “Besides an envelope, letter, and a few photos, what else do you have?”
“I have the bastard’s DNA and a no quit attitude. I’ll find him. Oh, yes. I’ll find him.
“Look, Joe. If your mind is set. I’ll take tomorrow off. Come over to my house. We’ll both work online and see if we can dig something up about him. Maybe we’ll find an obituary, you never know.”
Joe nodded. They clinked bottles. Tony took the leftover pizza home. Joe went back to his apartment. It was empty since Marie left. Even though it was ten at night, he changed clothes and put on his workout gear and headed out for a five mile run.